Good morning, readers!
In the last few days, I’ve finished reading The Hunger Games and watched the entire second season of Downton Abbey. In both the book and the television series, I find myself longing to return to the lives of the characters I so fell in love with. Thankfully, I have Catching Fire (the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy) to read. But what of Downton Abbey? Alas, I’ll have to wait for the next season. But I will because I am so enamored of the storyline and the people who populate it.
When you fall in love with certain characters, you have an immediate loyalty to them. You want to follow them on their journey. You want to see more of them. You’re compelled to stick by them through whatever happens and you’re determined to make sure that they get what they deserve, whether good or bad. There are several characters in books and television shows that I remember from years ago that I miss. And I found myself wondering this morning, why is that? Why are they so much more stained in my memory than others? What are the makings of a memorable character?
1.) Identification: This has to do more with the person reading the book than anything else. Readers want to be able to identify with the characters. They like to see something in the character that has happened to them, that they have felt before. In that way, they feel closer to him/her and care about what happens to them. This isn’t easy to do. All people are very different and trying to pick one thing that will suit everyone can be tricky. In my opinion, I think the best thing to do is to choose something such as a personality flaw or way of thinking rather than a particular event in their history. Of course, events in their history will cause them to behave in certain ways, that’s true. Once you have the character’s personality down, you draw readers in. You make them care about the individual before you place the details of their past on the table. You want to ensure that no matter what it is that they’ve done, the people are going to bother to read on about it. This goes for antagonist characters as well. Everyone has a reason for doing what they do, whether it’s bad or good. It’s your job to flesh out your antagonist just as you have your protagonist. That way, the tension between the two feels more real.
2.) Let the characters tell the story: There are some books that revolve entirely around the plot while the characters are flung into it with little-to-no background information. Unfortunately, now a days, I feel like it happens allot with horror novels. If you have characters whom you’ve fleshed out, they will often times make the story. You will be inside their heads to the point where you know what decisions they will make and you will understand their motivations for making them. Things may detour in a direction you weren’t prepared for. This has happened many, many times when I’ve written. Opportunities present themselves that you never would have predicted. That’s why I often find that it’s hard to come up with a plot synopsis before I’ve even started writing the first chapter. Even if you do know what you want the outcome of your novel to be, let your characters breathe. Let them choose the path in which they will get there. It makes for compelling story-telling and you’ll find that not only will you get swept up in their adventures, so will the readers.
3.) Give them a past: Our pasts define us as people. It’s true that a characters past might not come out in the story, and that’s usually the case if one doesn’t take the time to come up with one. Characters personalities, sympathies, and decisions are all results of their upbringings and the hardships or joys they’ve encountered in that span of time. And certain events that may have happened to several characters will effect each one differently. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. If you don’t want redundant characters, you need to ensure that there will be conflict between them. Creating this conflict happens through a difference of opinions most often. This causes certain people to fall in with one another and repel certain characters from others instinctively. In my book, “Vox,” there is a certain camaraderie between Sean and Reid. Sean has just been pulled into the world of lilitu and ghosts. He is confused by his newfound powers as a medium but also driven by a need to save his girlfriend from Spiros Inc. At the heart of it all, he doesn’t know himself anymore and it terrifies him. Reid is a lilitu Councilman who has taken a risk to help Sean find his girlfriend because he has a weakness for helping humans. He has emotions and but hasn’t learned to control them like other lilitu in his bloodline. They bond over the course of the novel because they have similar drives and both are fighting with inner demons.
4.) Character quirks: Most every character has some type of quirk which makes them lovable. In “The Hunger Games,” Effie Trinket is bubbly and overly joyful about the Hunger Games, which are brutal and terrible punishment for the districts. She has a perpetual optimism about her that makes her continue to make the best of everything. There’s also Haymitch, who is drunk most of the time and doesn’t seem to care about anything. However, he does eventually connect with Katiness to the point where they can understand one another’s motives without having to speak to one another. These two characters, Effie and Haymitch, were paramount to Katiness’s and Peeta’s survival and the book wouldn’t have been the same without them. In my book, “Vox,” Torrent is probably one of the quirkiest characters because he has a general lust for knowledge and an incorrigible curiosity for anything and everything he comes across. While others might have ran from the revenant, he just smiled and tried to remember when the last time he saw one was. Giving a few of your characters one oddity, whether its a desire for knowledge or some kind of tick, will often create terrible or sometimes, humorous consequences.
5.) Take care in who you flesh out: There are protagonists in a book for a reason. They are the drive of the story and should be given the most attention. The secondary characters will need histories and possibly quirks as well. But when you begin to flesh out the back story of a guy who shows up for only one scene of the novel, especially if it’s someone you know is about to die, don’t get too carried away. You want your readers to long for the characters and to remember them long after the story is over. If you kill them off or have them randomly disappear for no good reason, you’ll not only piss off your reader but confuse them as well. And lets face it, no one wants you to go on about the waiter who’s serving the characters lunch. We don’t necessarily want to know if he was adopted as a child or crashed his car that morning… it’s not important. As you write your story, you’ll know which characters will jump out at you and which ones won’t. Those will likely be the reader’s favorites, too. Treat them especially and you’ll be rewarded in the end. But leave the random guy walking down the street, the tollbooth attendant, or the waiter alone.
6.) Go about telling your story gently: A story is a story for a reason. If it’s meant to be a long book or a series, then it will be. Characters sometimes require longer to flesh out. Sometimes they demand it whether you like it or not. Allow them the space. You may find the more you write about them, the more you discover things you didn’t know. The last thing you want to do is drop their entire dossier in the first chapter with all of their past history and observations of the world. They will tell it in their own time. And more often than not, those opinions of theirs will change as the story goes along. Downton Abbey is a prime example for how to develop your characters over the course of time. We may not have respected or liked Thomas or O’Bryan at the beginning of the series, but now that we know a little more about them, we do. (Well, maybe not like… but at least understand.) The reason I chose to write The Monstrum Chronicles as a series is because I knew that Torrent’s, and Eileen’s, and Reid’s stories wouldn’t be over when I’d finished “Vox.” There is more room to grow, more to tell, and more to experience. I’ll be glad to tell their stories gently and slowly.
Stay tuned for tonight’s Inspiration Through Music post, where I’ll be analyzing the music of “A Beautiful Mind.”